Divorce Defense: 10 Steps to Take Before You Separate

An excerpt from Surviving Separation and Divorce

If you have an inkling that separation is headed your way, peruse this list. Call it looking out for number one, but if you don't-trust me-no one else will. Don't feel guilty about taking these measures if you must. And if you are dealing with domestic violence, turn to Chapter 5 for additional strategies.

  • Knowledge is power. Know where you and your husband have bank accounts, life insurance policies, mutual funds, certificates of deposit, all other instruments of finance, and important documents such as social security cards, passports, birth and stock certificates, and the details of his pension, 401 (k), and other employee benefits. Know the location of and have access to safe deposit boxes. Your county recorder of deeds can help you track down real estate and deeds.

    If your marriage is just short of the ten-year mark, you may want to wait it out, if you can and if it's safe. You'll have more bargaining power in matters such as alimony, social security, pension benefits, and more. This is because courts tend to view marriages lasting at least ten years or more as longer term. Therefore, you may be eligible for a portion of your husband's pension and social security benefits (when you reach the age to claim these), and you may qualify for alimony. It's all good reason to speak with an attorney before moving out, or asking him to.
  • Become a financial sleuth. Obtain statements and balances for bank accounts, plus copies of wills and trusts. Make duplicate copies of computer files with financial data. The Social Security office can give you a current report of earning for both of you. Collect as many of your husband's pay stubs as possible. In some professions there are multiple paychecks. For instance, a police officer might receive separate payment for his court appearances. Or there could be bonuses or commissions accounted for on separate pay stubs. Most of this shows up on a W-2, but this doesn't help if it's July.
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